American Honey
dir-scr Andrea Arnold
prd Thomas Benski, Lars Knudsen, Lucas Ochoa, Pouya Shahbazian, Jay Van Hoy, Alice Weinberg
with Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal B Ice, Verronikah Ezell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Garry Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone
release US 30.Sep.16, UK 14.Oct.16
16/UK Universal 2h43
American Honey
Into the West: LaBeouf and Lane

labeouf leough arnold
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
American Honey Filmmaker Andrea Arnold astutely slices through American youth culture with this meandering road trip, which is gorgeously photographed by Robbie Ryan and played with bracing honesty by its fresh-faced cast. But with so little structure to the plot, the extended running time feels at least an hour too long. Especially since the events stop making logical sense and the characters stubbornly refuse to take their own internal journeys.

Fed up with taking care of her younger siblings for her slacker mother and low-life boyfriend, 18-year-old Star (Lane) runs off with a group of young people passing through her Texas town. They're selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door, managed by the no-nonsense Krystal (Keough), who doesn't mind their hedonistic partying as long as she makes her money. The team leader is Jake (LaBeouf), and he trains Star as they travel from city to city. She is clearly falling for him, but maybe he has that effect on all the new girls.

Within this premise, things happen at random, never linking into a central narrative. Only a few of the people around Star register as characters. But none of them, Star included, makes any kind of progress forward or back. They're all in it for the moment, living life as it comes without any sense of direction. Star may have a dream of getting a trailer of her own and filling it with children, but it's never more than an idea for her.

Lane gives a riveting turn that never feels like a performance: it's like we're following a real-life disaffected young woman as she makes a series of life-changing decisions, many of which could get her killed (or worse). She continually leaps into cars with strangers, but she's not stupid. She's a quick thinker with an innate sense of compassion. LaBeouf and Keough offer more jaded roles, livening up the screen whenever they're around. And the crowd of kids is energetic and entertaining.

So it's frustrating that the film seems to spin its wheels, travelling physically but not emotionally. There are several set-pieces that are incomplete, leaving us wondering how Star managed to return to her gang. And some of them also feel forced, especially when a cliche like a handgun makes an appearance. But it's filmed and played so beautifully that it's hard not to wish that Arnold had made this into a TV series rather than this far too long movie.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 5.Oct.16 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... American Honey Kallie Wilbourn, Las Vegas, New Mexico: 4/5 These are young adults barely out of childhood, grown up like weeds in a culture that no longer rewards (or even offers) working class parents the orderly life they could create with just enough encouragement. It's a hard, grim world that photography and observation and the wild abandon these young people express make gorgeous and dangerous. (Though the music and chanting are sometimes tiresome.) Lane, as Star, is simply one of the more observant and lovely of these youngsters. She has not abandoned compassion for herself and for others. Krystal is the film's hard center. She, with her nihilist outlook, will survive no matter what, perhaps become one of the people creating a society unlivable for most. The film ends ambiguously, leaving the fates of Lane and Jake much less certain. One of its great strengths is that I try to imagine their fates, as if they were real people. (20.Jan.18)

© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall